23 MarAda Lovelace Day

Who’s Ada Lovelace? From http://www.pledgebank.com/AdaLovelaceDay:

Ada Lovelace was one of the world’s first computer programmers, and one of the first people to see computers as more than just a machine for doing sums. She wrote programmes for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computing machine, despite the fact that it was never built. She also wrote the very first description of a computer and of software.

Why does she get her own day & what’s this all about?

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

Until just a few weeks ago, I knew who Ada Lovelace was, or thought I did… and then I found out she’s also Lord Byron’s daughter. Poetry & computers. Code has its own rhyme & reason, poetry like a puzzle to put together, it makes sense, in a funny sort of way.

Wikipedia’s article says of her, “She is today appreciated as the “first programmer” since she was writing programs—that is, manipulating symbols according to rules—for a machine that Babbage had not yet built.” Funny, as a taxonomist, I sometimes feel like I’m manipulating symbols according to rules for machines not yet built too… Or for machines built, but not configured, or for machines that are built, but there’s no code interface to use the work I do. Or for machines built & programs owned… but not by us… But then again, despite the potential missed, my work is used & valued, just not always very efficiently or elegantly. You win some, you lose some, you draw some.

There’s Grace Hopper too. Her wikipedia entry says, “A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I calculator, and she developed the first compiler for a computer programming language.” Woo, compiling! It’s the moment that always makes me fret while I wait to see if I did the install right… Computers are like knitting though. I can always tear it out & start over if I have to. Well, maybe I can’t always, but I certainly have often enough to know these things are possible.

Then there are the six women who programmed ENIAC in 1943-1945: Frances Elizabeth “Betty” Snyder Holberton, Betty Jean Jennings Bartik, Kathleen “Kay” McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum, & Frances “Fran” Bilas Spence. From the article:

“Because the ENIAC project was classified, the programmers were denied access to the machine they were supposed to tame into usefulness until they received their security clearances. As the first programmers, they had no programming manuals or courses, only the logical diagrams to help them figure out how to make the ENIAC work.

They had none of the programming tools of today. Instead, the programmers had to physically program the ballistics program by using the 3000 switches and dozens of cables and digit trays to physically route the data and program pulses through the machine.”

In 1995, my best friend from college sat me down and showed me the minimal basics of html. Up until then, it was Word, solitaire, & tetris. Then came M1, Bee Lavender & HipMama.com & Mamaphonic. I hand-coded all but the board at Mamaphonic until 2004 when we switched to the Drupal CMS. I did some things here & there on HipMama.com before the CMS, but that was largely coded by Bee and various other people. Not long after I started doing stuff with the mamas, I landed myself pregnant with my second & in library school. Now I know whole bundles of women doing amazing things with technology. Phoebe and her really neato stuff with wikipedia, Darci and her completely amazing stuff with Plone & Plinkit, Lynn to whom we are ever thankful for helping us with Drupal at the HipMama.com sites, and hordes & hordes of other women doing awesome, amazing, excellent work as well.

Ada & Grace & all the rest of you, so many that I missed, thanks for blazing a trail for us!

  • Well, why didn’t you TELL me? Right on! Muse of the day!

  • I just did! :)

  • This is a wonderful post! So very appropriate to Mamaphonic, too! Thank you for sharing it!

  • I have added a link to here on my blog – hope that’s okay.

  • Thank you for reading it! And of course it’s fine, I like your writing. :)

  • Library Linda

    Me? I can wrangle MS Publisher. Sigh. But in my DREAMS I’m a technology wrangler.

  • Oh, but you are! You’re your library’s sharepoint wizard! And who else but your teenage patrons are tweeting? Hmmm?